Discussing “Sonny’s Blues”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • A lot of the story takes place with characters on the move, whether this is on the subway, in a taxi, world travel, or walking the streets. What could this constant motion symbolize?
  • Do you think the narrator sees potential in the boys he teaches or only sees their potentially rough futures?
  • After leaving work, the narrator runs into one of Sonny’s old friends. What do you think this interaction symbolizes?
  • There are short references to music scattered throughout the story, what do these inclusions add to the meaning of the story?
  • Do you think that the narrator truly cares for his brother’s well being or is only in his life because of a moral family obligation?

period 2
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  • How does the narrator deal with his suffering?
  • Will Sonny relapse and start using drugs again?
  • If everyone suffers and deals with their suffering individually, then is all expression an expression of suffering?
  • Why do those who grew up in darkness and suffer because of it raise their children in the same darkness?
  • How does Sonny and the narrator’s fraternal relationship affect their interactions and issues?

period 3
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  • What do you think caused Sonny to start using drugs?
  • What does the music being played symbolize at the end of the story?
  • How does Grace dying have an impact on Sonny and the rest of the story?
  • Do you think the story would be different if told from a different perspective?
  • What is the correlation between the drink Sonny receives at the end of the story and his life?

Discussing “Barn Burning”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • What’s the significance of the final line in the story?
  • Considering he liked setting fires, why did Abner Snopes build such small fires on regular nights?
  • What was Abner Snopes’ real involvement in the war? What does this mean about him? About his son’s view of him?
  • What does Abner Snopes ruining the de Spains’ rug symbolize?
  • Why does Faulkner continuously compare Abner Snopes to tin?

period 2
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  • Consider the father’s relationship with wealth. His approach to the war seemed to indicate greed and materialism, yet his treatment of de Spain’s carpet points to a resentment of wealth. Do you think the father desires wealth? Why or why not? What other priorities interact with his desire for wealth, or lack therefore?
  • While the battle between “blood” and “law” is one that permeates the entire story, the narrator has a clear shift between taking a beating for his family’s honor in the beginning and betraying his father in the end. What might have caused this shift?
  • Faulkner opens the story with a description of the first court’s smell of cheese, filling the rest of the paragraph and even page with vivid descriptions of food and other sensory images that may seem tangential to the story. What purpose do these sensory descriptions serve?
  • When Colonel Sartoris and his father come across the de Spain’s house, the boy is awestruck and forgets about most everything else. What does this reveal about Colonel Sartoris’s views of the world? His relationship & similarities/differences with his father?

period 3
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  • Why was the son named Colonel Sartoris?
  • Why did Abner Snopes lie about his role in the Civil War?
  • Why did the father believe Colonel Sartoris Snopes would have told the judge? Why does he lie about his intentions even though he was not going to tell the judge what his father did?
  • Why does Colonel Sartoris Snopes decide to run?
  • In the end of “ Barn Burning” does Colonel Sartoris regret his decision to run?

Discussing “The Elephant Vanishes”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Haruki Murakami’s short story “The Elephant Vanishes.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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period 2
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  • Can we really trust the words of the narrator?
  • What does the relationship between the Elephant and Zookeeper represent?
  • What really happened to the elephant at the end of the story?
  • What happened to the narrator’s “balance” since the elephant’s disappearance?
  • What does the story say about the relationship between balance and unity?

period 3
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  • How does the relationship between the zookeeper and the elephant contribute to the story? And how does their relationship contrast that of the zookeeper and other kids visiting the zoo?
  • How does the narrator’s conversation with the magazine editor woman alienate himself from both her and society?
  • What does the elephant symbolize?
  • The ending is very abrupt and does not solve the problem. Why do you think the author ends the story like this? And how is this a reflection of the narrator’s perspective?
  • What does the elephant represent to the narrator? What does the elephant represent in society?

Discussing “Secret Woman”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Colette’s short story “Secret Woman.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • What purpose does the continual usage of colors and descriptions of the costumes serve in the story other than just simply describing disguises?
  • Why do you think they both lied to each other?
  • Who do you think is more in the wrong in this situation? The husband or the wife?
  • Do you think the husband’s “decision” on what she’s doing is accurate?
  • Do you think he should’ve told her or continued the one sided secrecy?

period 2
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  • Why do you think Irene said she did not want to go to the opera ball but still ended up going?
  • What do you think Colette is trying to say about Irene when she calls her a “pierrot”?
  • Why do you think that the husband never confronted his wife?
  • Do you think the wife knows that her husband has been spying on her?
  • What are some power relationships in this text?

period 3
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Discussing “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • In the short story, there are characters who believe that the man with wings is an angel and characters who do not. Do you think the man is an angel?
  • How is this magical world Marques has created reflective of modern society? Is she trying to highlight how people would treat a holy figure if it were present in our world today?
  • When the angel gets the chicken pox, the doctor listens to his heart. What do you think the whistling in his heart and sounds in his kidneys is? Also, chicken pox is usually a sickness kids get, and the angel is a very old man. What does this say about the angel?
  • The man is finally able to fly away at the end of the story. Do you think the family whom he stayed with was more helpful or hurtful? Did they help him recover, or make his recovery time longer?
  • In the story, it is stated that a woman who disobeyed her parents was turned into a spider as punishment. In many cultures, spiders symbolize an increase of awareness. Do you think that Marquez kept this in mind when she decided to turn the woman into a spider? If not, why do you think she chose that specific insect?

period 2
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  • How would the story be different if the Very Old Man had been a Very Little Baby?
  • What impact does the combination of magical and ordinary details have on the reader?
  • In the story why do they choose to include another supernatural creature in a spider person?
  • How did the old man with enormous wings gain enough strength to fly out of the coup?

period 3
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  • What do you think the crabs may symbolize?
  • Do you think that religion had a major influence over the story and the belief among the people in the story?
  • Why do you think that the couple mistreated the angel and had much antipathy towards him?
  • Do you think that the old man with wings was an angel, a literal man who had wings, or something else?
  • Why do you think that the old man with wings leaves at the end of the story? How was he able to flourish after being really run down?

Discussing “Bloodchild”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • What binaries are created through the dependence of the Terrans on T’Gatoi? How are they created?
  • What are some parallels you can find between the Preserve and the role of T’Gatoi in their home? What rhetoric does Octavia Butler use to portray these parallels?
  • To what extension is this a story about self-sacrifice and familial bonds?
  • One of the main themes of the story is the interdependence of two very different species. What is an example of a similar interdependence in your own life?
  • On page 28 and 29, Gan responds to T’Gatoi’s statement about protecting terrans by saying,“‘ Not protected,’ I said. ‘Shown. Shown when we’re young kids, and shown more than once.’” To what extent do you agree with Gan’s statement? Can this same sentiment be applied to our education system and how we expose kids to the evils of the world?

period 2
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  • What type of planet do you think they live on? What do you think the land/environment looks like?
  • What would you do if put in the same position as Gan? Would you fufill your “duty” even if you personally did not want to?
  • Would you trust someone who took care of you like Qui, his brother or a someone like T’Gatoi?
  • Have you had a person in your life that is as selfless as Gan and Gan’s mother?
  • How important is family to you?

period 3
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  • How could humans come to be dominated by this species?
  • Why do the aliens have such human personalities and why do some have so much empathy for the humans?
  • Does the mother refusing the eggs imply that she wants to die?
  • Is the preserve the only place where humans are living or do they exist in other parts of this world?

Discussing “Black Box”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Jennifer Egan’s short story “Black Box.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • Do you think her life went back to normal after she returned?
  • What do you think would have happened if she used one of her devices wrong and her designated mate found out?
  • Do you think she went on this voluntary mission to feel successful like her husband and father?
  • Why do you think she chose now in her life to go be a spy?
  • Do you think there is a secret society of spy beauties?

period 2
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  • What does the author do in the story to ‘defamiliarize’ or create a sense of detachment? What does this potentially say about humanity in relation to either patriarchal society, traumatic experiences, or sacrificing for the greater good?
  • Why do you think the author decided to publish this story in a series of tweets? What influence does this have on her writing and overall comprehension in readers? What about the various illustrations included throughout the story?
  • Do you support the notion that this story is about feminism/female empowerment? Why or why not?
  • This story does not align exactly with the stereotypical ‘sci-fi’ genre. Meaning, while it does feature advanced technology and alternative life situations, it still seems plausible in today’s society. This being said, what do you think the story could be an allegory or symbol of other than patriarchy?
  • What difference does it make that the story is written in second-person narrative? How do you think this contributes to the paradox of the main character being a ‘black box’ and us readers seemingly reading her black box itself?

period 3
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  • How does having the story in second-person perspective affect the theme?
  • Before handing over the recording of her mission she can edit and delete personal thoughts, does she include these personal thoughts intentionally?
  • How far is too far when it comes to patriotism?

“Song of Ourselves”

Coming off our final unit on Romantic poetry, specifically a deep dive into Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, we wrote a final send-off poem together, inspired by Whitman’s send-off in section 52 of “Song of Myself.”

Here is the text version of our “Song of Ourselves.”  And here is our video:

Celebrity GOST Commentary!

Yes, in parts of the world that value wit, compassion, and literary intelligence, my AP Lit teaching colleague Ms. Hunter is most definitely a celebrity. And I have been lucky enough to stumble on some bootleg videos of her walking her classes through her favorite moments in the second half of God of Small Things.

In all seriousness, Ms. Hunter’s insights are really eye-opening for me, and I really like how she always grounds them in a close reading of specific passages. I invite you to pull out your copy of the novel, gather your favorite passages and your own insights, and put them alongside hers in conversation. After watching her, if you have questions or responses, please put them in the comments below and I’ll make sure she sees them and has a chance to respond.

If she just sparks a pathway for you, though, use it as inspiration for an original post.

So first, enjoy Ms. Hunter’s analysis of a variety of moments in Chs. 9-18:

Side note: Did you have some video background envy? Who’s in that photo over there on the shelf? Has she really read all those books? I’ll bet she claims she didn’t even know what was behind her. Yeah, whatever …. I can’t even get my thumbnail image to look right (see below).

Anyway …. After finishing the novel, enjoy Ms. Hunter’s take on the momentous final chapters:

And if you haven’t yet gotten to the end of God of Small Things, and you are looking for some perspective on the early chapters, I’ve put together a compilation of Bernie’s Quick Takes — excerpted out of my messages of the days from the week before Spring Break.

And hey, no one is stopping you from doing your own video or audio take on the novel — or anything else. Just sayin’

Blogging God of Small Things …

Since we are all getting back into the groove, I thought I would re-articulate the blogging expectations during our reading of God of Small Things. I am imagining our unit spilling over a bit into next week, so the deadlines might bend a bit as the week progresses.

The blogging assignment is to complete at least TWO of your own blog posts and at least THREE substantial comments on other classmates’ posts. See “Blogging Responsibilities” for general guidance to the assignment. Since we reading God of Small Things this week, though, here are some specific recommendations:

  • Posts: At least one of your posts needs to reflect a close reading of God of Small Things (most likely, quoting — and citing page #’s — for multiple passages). The second blog post should probably be an evaluation and/or application of the theory of Orientialism (see the separate resources on Orientalism that will be part of a separate assignment this week) — but it could be another close reading of the novel, if you are inspired.
  • Comments: The main idea here is quality over quantity. I’d rather see ONE lengthy engagement with another classmates’ ideas than 3-4 quick comments that just affirm what is already being said, although quick affirmations are great too.
  • Extra Credit/Makeup: If you are inspired to add more than two posts and are extra-active in the comments, you will be rewarded. The week after Spring Break, besides the start of the 4th Quarter and the rest of the year, is also the time our administration has given us to shore up any incomplete 3rd Quarter assignments. So one of my first thought will be to find a way to go back and give at least partial points back on missed assignments.

Important: The blog is our space in which we will try to recreate a version of class discussion that both allows us to share our ideas, listen to the ideas of others, and advance all of our knowledge. We can certainly be passionate and have fun with it, but it should be approached with seriousness and a sense of community.

Discussing God of Small Things …

To get us started, how about taking a close look at a passage that intrigues you — or one that confuses you — or one that made you bow down and admit you are not worthy of Roy’s literary skillz?

Remember, all grammar, sentence structure, and format rules apply here, but as far as the content of your post, feel free to mix in literary analysis with personal reflection or connections with the larger world.

Music Poetry!

Here is the master mix for all three of Heidkamp’s periods:

That’s a lot of musical poetry! Let the defenses begin!

If you are into period solidarity, you can access the period-specific playlists here:

Period 1
Period 2
Period 8

First Days of School Mix

And speaking of music and mixes and soundtracks, I put together my own First Days of School Mix — new music that puts everything in perspective and provides some needed boosts of inspiration. Any new songs I should add? Anyone have their own back-to-school soundtrack?

Music Poetry, Thanks to the Class of 2019 …

I don’t know about you, but I like to have a soundtrack to pretty much everything I do. And in that spirit, a class should have its own soundtrack.

But a soundtrack is personal — or at least should reflect the community that listens to it. So our class soundtrack is going to come from you — in the form of a Music Poetry assignment we will get to later in the first semester.

In the meantime, last year’s AP Lit classes have created their own soundtrack that we can borrow until we get up to speed. Enjoy!

Welcome!

Welcome to the blog for our AP Lit class. It is the space in which we will continue conversations from class and start new ones. We’ll be discussing and debating literary conundrums and so much more. We might even see a little poetry.

So, what’s a blog? And how will we be using it class? For information on blogging and how to join and post to our blog, see “All About Blogging.”

We’re looking forward to a great year.

Make sure you check your e-mail for your invitation to join the blog. Also – and this is very important – the first step you should take after you accept the invitation is to edit your user profile so that you control how your identity and your communication preferences.  Click on the icon in the upper right corner of the browser and edit your profile

You can fill out as much of it as you want, but the only requirement is — under “Identity” — make sure your “Display name” is your first name and last initial only — so we provide some anonymity while still allowing your classmates and teacher to be able to identity who you are. For example, change “Bernie Heidkamp” to “Bernie H.”

The Old Blog is Dead! Long Live the Old Blog!

For many years, we used the Blogger platform for the AP Lit blog. Since it is owned by Google, it integrates pretty seamlessly with your Google accounts — which made it easy to use, in some respects — but it is a very limited and bug-ridden platform. So this year, we have decided to construct a new class blog from scratch using the most more powerful and stable WordPress platform.

If you are interested, though, in seeing what past AP Lit students have been thinking and writing about, feel free to wander over to the old blog.

old blog